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Galway cardiology registrar from Pakistan 'left stranded' waiting two years for citizenship decision

Dr Jawad Zaman (33) has been living in Ireland since 2015.

Dr Jawad Zaman.
Dr Jawad Zaman.
Image: Jawad Zaman

A DOCTOR LIVING in Galway but originally from Pakistan feels he has been “left stranded” while waiting two years for a decision on his citizenship application.

Dr Jawad Zaman (33) is a cardiology registrar in University Hospital Galway. He is married to an Irish citizen and they have two children together. 

He has been living in Ireland since August 2015 and applied for Irish citizenship in May 2019.

“My family, my wife is Irish, I have two daughters who are Irish. There is no reason to reject my case. I’m not a criminal. I’ve submitted my case from all my years in Ireland,” he told The Journal. 

“I’m contributing to the Irish economy… but still my case is lingering and no reason is being mentioned for such a huge delay.”

Doctors from non-EU countries have called for frontline workers’ citizenship applications to be prioritised.

It is more difficult for non-EU citizens to enter into the process to become a medical consultant as EU citizens are given preference above non-EU doctors for training. 

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said in March that his department is working on this issue and that it is something he “would like to see sorted out”.

A Bill, the Regulated Professions (Health and Social Care) Amendment Bill 2020, now signed into law, aims to give greater access to non-EU doctors to train here.

Dr Zaman said a doctor’s “whole career progression is related to whether you’re EU or non-EU” and that having EU citizenship makes it “easier to progress” in the Irish health system.

“My juniors who got trained under me are becoming my seniors, there is no career progression.” 

He said non-EU doctors “work in the same rota, we do the same jobs like a trainee does but our jobs are not recognised and it takes us ages to become a consultant compared to someone working as my colleague or a junior training under me to become a consultant”. 

Dr Zawan has worked in cardiology since July 2016, spending two years in Kilkenny and  two years in Limerick before starting work in Galway last year.

He submitted an application to become an Irish citizen by naturalisation in May 2019.

Non-Irish citizens can apply this after they have been married to an Irish citizen for at least three years and have lived in Ireland for three of the last five years. 

He said he submitted all the relevant application forms and documentation and received acknowledgement from the Department of Justice. 

In response to queries from The Journal, the department said it is unable to comment on individual cases. 

“A number of issues have impacted on the processing of citizenship applications over the past 15 months,” the department said, including a “significant backlog” due to the inability to hold in-person citizenship ceremonies during the pandemic. 

“This has led to a current average processing time of 25 months. However, it’s important to note that the Department did not suspend the receipt or processing of applications at any stage during the Covid-19 pandemic and measures are currently underway to improve processing times for all applicants,” the statement said. 

“By the end of March 2021, the Department fulfilled its promise to communicate with 4,000 applicants, most of whom have been in the system over 30 months.

“The Department communicated with a further 1,000 applicants in April and is aiming to have communicated with an additional 1,500 applicants in the system by the end of June. At that point, we will have communicated with all those that were recorded, as at 30 December 2020, as having been in the system 24 months or more and 6,500 people will have been given the opportunity to complete their Irish citizenship.”

Dr Zawan said he has emailed the DoJ approximately 15 times in the past year and has only received responses to say the application remains in processing.

Competing for roles

The doctor said cardiology is a “competitive” field, and his lack of citizenship “comes in the middle” of his goal to progress further and get the training required to become a consultant.

“I can’t get a competitive post because if another EU or Irish citizen comes in competition with me, I [won't get the role].”

He said with Irish citizenship, it would allow him to become a higher ranking consultant cardiologist within a few years. 

However, he has received a job offer to work in the UK from August this year. 

“I’m left stranded,” he said, not knowing if he should give up the citizenship process and move to the UK, or stay here and keep trying. 

He said it has been “depressing” to watch opportunities pass him by in the past few years and to see junior registrars progress above him. 

“In a year or two, they will become my bosses and I will still be a registrar.

This July, I will have been five years in cardiology and I’m nowhere near becoming a consultant. 

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The Irish Times reported last month that consultants and medical professors at Beaumont Hospital called on the government to help non-EU doctors develop their medical careers in Ireland. 

The letter said it is “galling” to see colleagues “stalled in their career progress”, the paper reported. 

Dr Zaman has done a number of exams ‘just to keep myself on top’, because without multiple qualifications, he believes he would be “nowhere in cardiology” as a non-EU citizen”. 

“Despite all these qualifications, I can’t progress any further from a registrar post in Ireland.

Another person progresses to become a senior after two or three years and you remain the same because your nationality is different.

“Obviously this will be depressing for yourself.” 

Last month, a group called Train Us for Ireland – representing non-EU doctors who are calling for greater access to Irish courses to allow them to up-skill – wrote to each TD and Senator to ask them to bring a bill to the Dáil that would allow frontline workers’ citizenship applications to be fast-tracked.

Considering leaving 

“I got an offer for a job in the UK [previously] and it would be easier to move there because it’s a big country and there are a huge number of hospitals with a lot of vacancies and huge future prospects,” Dr Zawan said.

“But I stayed here because Ireland was looking for doctors after the Covid crisis. To leave Ireland in the middle [of the pandemic] was a bit unfair.”

Dr Zaman and his family became ill with Covid-19 in the first wave of the pandemic last year. 

He said at this stage, he just wants a decision on his citizenship so he can decide on the next steps. 

At least I would be done with it, I wouldn’t be waiting for something and I could go to another country where they respect my progression.

He said he sometimes regrets staying in Ireland. 

“When I was coming to Ireland, I got an offer to start working as a doctor in the UK but I preferred Ireland because my family was there.

“Ireland is a very lovely country,” the doctor said, but career progression to consultancy remains to be an issue.

If you’re a doctor from outside the EU, working in Ireland and facing a similar situation, we would be interested in hearing your story. Please contact orladwyer@thejournal.ie. 

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